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Once a Warrior participant, ex-Royal Marines

A case study of the Once a Warrior project

Once a Warrior: Case Study

Case Study: Once a Warrior

This case study looks at the Once a Warrior project, in which current and former servicemen and women – some with histories of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – found parallels between their own military experiences and Native American warrior societies.

The challenges

  • The West Country has many armed forces personnel who have returned from war, yet many civilians have no knowledge of military life.
  • Mental health is a significant concern for many ex-military personnel.
  • Some ex-combatants suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of warzone experiences, some as a result of difficulty in returning to civilian life.

The background

The Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery (RAMM) has developed and delivered a number of projects linked with mental health and wellbeing. A British Museum exhibition about Native American warrior societies offered the opportunity to work with local servicemen and women, in partnership with Aftermath PTSD. This Exeter-based organisation uses art to help people suffering from combat-related stress.

The project

Current and former military personnel met curators and went behind the scenes at the museum. They were encouraged to talk about the exhibition and find parallels with the ways and rituals of Native American warrior societies from the 19th century to the present. For example, whereas Native American warriors used to decorate their clothing with patterns and human scalps, today’s British regiments can be identified by their uniforms, mountain boots or special issue knives.

Given creative space, the group was inspired to paint, write poems, make a film and sew blankets. Their interviews were recorded and made into a digital film which showcases the artworks they made as part of the project. The film and artworks were shown alongside the visiting exhibition, with the public invited to respond.

What changed?

All of the group said that they found the project valuable and said that they would recommend it to someone else. Participants tried out new creative outlets, learned new facts, and were proud of their work. They reflected on their own identities, and felt better connected to each other, to civilian society, and to other people across time, cultures and continents as a result of Once a Warrior.The public found Once a Warrior moving and thought-provoking, and it raised awareness of PTSD and the complexities of military life.

The modern veterans’ comments provided a relevant local context to the historical artefacts. All of the participants said that they found the project valuable and would recommend it to someone else.

What did people say?

“It has been a huge part of my therapy…. It will help in my recovery.”

“At last I feel proud of my poems.”

“The power of expressing things through art, writing, drawing, painting or poetry takes away the the pain of trying to explain the depth of what happened.”

“I see RAMM as a place of learning, intimate enough for visitors to have the time and space to contemplate within safe public surroundings.”

John McDermott, co-founder, Aftermath PTSD

What next?

RAMM learned lessons from Once a Warrior that apply to its ongoing work on wellbeing. For example, the project was successful in focusing conversations on individuals’ thoughts and life experiences, rather than their specific mental health issues.

RAMM learned that iPad and digital technology can provide a platform for community voices and interaction, but require coordinated publicity to build up effective momentum.

The project created relationships with various support services for current and former military personnel, which could be developed. The British Museum said the project was a highlight of its partnership programme, and it would be interested in future collaborations.

For further information

Please contact Ruth Gidley, Community Participation Officer, RAMM

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